And in today’s recipe, combining the tart fruit with a sweet custard cake might be the best thing that has ever happened to rhubarb.
This rhubarb custard cake is unassuming in appearance (especially if your rhubarb is naughty and sinks while baking), but it more than makes up for that when you take your first bite:
Creamy + Sweet + Tart
An easy little cake
There is nothing difficult or time consuming about this cake. It comes together fast, and is a perfectly light spring or summer dessert.
Even better, the batter needs to be whisked by hand. Don’t use an electric mixer or too much air will be incorporated into the batter which makes the rhubarb more likely to sink while baking.
You want to whisk the eggs and egg yolk and sugar until the color noticeably lightens and the mixture is thick, but it should only take 30-60 seconds. Don’t go too crazy here. 🙂
Follow up with the butter, lemon zest, and sour cream.
And finally the dry ingredients. You can’t get much simpler than this.
Mix until the batter is thick and smooth.
I use a 9-inch round cake pan for this recipe. It also helps to chill the batter for 10-15 minutes before baking.
I pop it in the fridge while getting my rhubarb in order.
Let’s talk about rhubarb
I have literally no idea what variety of rhubarb is living its best life in the garden bed next to my house. Some stalks are green. Some are pinkish-red. Some are a combo. The plant is huge and unwieldy. And I love it.
For this cake, you want about 6-7 stalks of rhubarb (maybe 8- or so inches in length).
I’m pretty sure any variety of rhubarb will do.
I like to choose smaller stalks of rhubarb. Leave those behemoth ones to chop up for strawberry rhubarb pie.
Choosing thinner stalks of rhubarb will help the rhubarb stay perched on top while the cake bakes vs sinking to the bottom.
If you only have thicker stalks, don’t panic, there’s a simple solution:
take a sharp knife and carefully slice the stalks in half lengthwise so they are thinner
The only tricky part of this recipe
Spoiler alert: it’s actually not that tricky.
Arrange the rhubarb on top of the cake batter in whatever pattern your heart desires. Straight lines. That’s what my heart desires.
Do NOT press or push the rhubarb into the cake batter. Like, not at all. Lay it on top very lightly.
Pressing the rhubarb into the cake batter, even the tiniest bit, may make it even more prone to sink while baking.
If you aren’t feeling long strips of rhubarb (it can get a bit stringy when cutting the baked cake), you can chop the rhubarb into bite-size pieces.
As you can see, I followed all the rules:
hand mixing the batter only
slicing thin stalks of rhubarb
not even pressing one tiny bit when adding the rhubarb to the top of the cake
And still. My rhubarb always sinks a little bit. I’ve made this cake several times…always some sinking.
Even though it would be prettier if the rhubarb would mind its manners, I don’t stress about it.
The most important part is getting tart bites of rhubarb with the sweet, custardy cake, and that happens whether the rhubarb stays on top or not.
The cake will puff and brown on the edges but stay pretty soft in the center.
You don’t want it raw in the center, but don’t overbake it or else you’ll eliminate the custard texture that makes this cake so phenomenal.
Also, another delightful surprise: the edges of the cake are absolutely amazing. Slightly more set up than the middle, they are golden and chewy, and so, so good.
It takes a phenomenal rhubarb recipe to really get me excited. And after making this rhubarb custard cake several times, it’s clear that it is a keeper.
Brian says it’s one of his favorite desserts. No surprise, really, since he also says that about strawberry rhubarb anything whenever I make it.
Tart and sweet, the contrasting flavors in this cake are incredible. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Unreal.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan (you can line the bottom with a parchment circle, if desired).
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar with a wire whisk (don’t use a hand mixer – it will incorporate too much air for this cake) until pale and thick, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter, sour cream and lemon zest. Add to the egg mixture and whisk until combined.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix with a rubber spatula until the batter is smooth. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Chill the batter for 10 minutes.
Make sure the rhubarb stalks are dried well. If they are over 1/4-inch thick, slice them carefully in half lengthwise. Cut the stalks to fit and arrange over the batter next to each other, covering as much of the batter as you can (but keeping the rhubarb in a single layer). DO NOT PRESS THE RHUBARB INTO THE CAKE BATTER. Lay it very gently on top without pressing at all or else it will be prone to sinking during baking (mine still does each time I make this, but it definitely sinks less if I haven’t pressed the rhubarb at all into the cake).
Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes until browned and puffed around the edges. The center may still be slightly soft set but it shouldn’t be wet batter. Add additional time, if needed.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes (or completely) before slicing into pieces. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. It’s delicious warm, room temperature or chilled.
Rhubarb: using longer pieces of rhubarb makes for a prettier presentation, but it can be a little “stringy” cutting into the cake. Alternately, you can cut the rhubarb into bite-size pieces and scatter those over the top (don’t press them into the batter!). They’ll most likely sink while baking, but the combination of tart rhubarb in every bite and sweet custard cake is still super delicious. Also, I think you could definitely try other fruits in place of the rhubarb (raspberries or blueberries come to mind!).
Frozen Rhubarb: I haven’t tried using frozen rhubarb in this recipe. My recommendation would be to probably thaw and pat dry before using.
Sinking Fruit: I’ve made this cake many times, and my rhubarb sinks to some degree every time. It doesn’t affect taste at all, so I don’t stress about it too much. A few factors that may help prevent sinking: don’t overmix the sugar and eggs. It’s really important to mix them until pale and thick for the custard texture (you’ll notice the color lightening) but too much mixing will incorporate more air which contributes to the rhubarb sinking. Also, using thin stalks of rhubarb (or cutting them in half so they are thinner) will also help.
Recipe Source: slightly adapted from this recipe (omitted rum, decreased sugar, added a few extra notes) – thanks to Melanie M. (a MKC reader who emailed me) for telling me about this recipe!